Episode 93 – The Good Friends meet good ends

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We’re back and we’re facing the inevitable. All good things must come to an end, and this includes our look at beginnings, middles and ends in roleplaying games. Our previous two episodes examined how to start a game session and what to do once it’s underway. Now, we’re wrapping up with an in-depth look at the end. Or ends, to be precise.

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No, not that way.

While a strong beginning is essential to get things moving and the middle takes up most of a game, the end tends to be what people remember. If your game has a dramatic, action-packed or emotional ending, your players will probably talk about it for years afterwards. If the end of the game is a damp squib, they are also likely to talk about it, just maybe in less glowing terms.

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“And then he spent ten minutes telling us everything our characters did wrong!”

We start our discussion by working out just when we should end a game, move on to techniques for building up to the end and then wrap things up with an examination of endings themselves. Oh, and then we talk about what to do after the end. Apparently, things aren’t always as final as they seem.

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“I spent hours designing my campaign villain and you killed her in two rounds. Of course she’s going to come back from the dead!”

In the intro, Paul makes mention of The Grogzine, the fanzine put out by our friends at The Grognard Files. Like our own publication, The Blasphemous Tome, this is a ‘zine created for those who back the podcast on Patreon. If you long for the days when White Dwarf published material for Runequest and Call of Cthulhu, this is the ‘zine for you.

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Free nostalgia with every issue.

There is more singing in this episode. If you have been lucky enough to escape our musical endeavours so far, I really should explain. When a generous and brave soul pledges at the $5 level on Patreon, we literally sing their praises. Well, it started out like that. Now we make strange sounds and Paul mixes them into an aural nightmare.

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Still, it might keep the horrors of the abyss at bay.

We are still accepting submissions for issue 2 of The Blasphemous Tome. As mentioned, we produce the fanzine exclusively for our backers, and everyone who donates money via Patreon receives at least one copy. Our original plan was to cut off submissions in mid-November. Predictably, we’re running late. If you have a piece of original artwork or a short article (under 500 words, ideally) that you would like to submit, please send it to us by the end of December. We are also interested in the most blood-curdling, sanity-blasting or toe-curling descriptions of monsters you can come up with. You can use the contact form on this very website or get in touch with us on Google+, Facebook or Twitter.

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None will be as sanity-blasting as this. Just ask Ginny the cat.

In case you’ve never noticed, Paul often sneaks little outtakes into the dead space beyond the end of an episode. Think of them as hidden tracks, but with more giggling. The outtake in this episode is longer than all the others put together. It also contains more swearing than an average episode of Deadwood. Why? Well, look above and below for a clue…

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1D10/1D100

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Episode 92 – The Good Friends get stuck in the middle

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We’re back and we’re continuing our analysis of the structure of roleplaying games. RPG scenarios are similar in form to stories, even if they become more chaotic in play! While they don’t necessarily follow a three or four-act structure, they do have beginnings, middles and ends. There are different techniques involved in presenting these, so we have devoted separate episodes to each one. We covered beginnings in episode 91, so this time it’s the turn of middles. You may be able to guess what’s coming in episode 93.

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Does a fortnight’s time count as nigh?

These three episodes came out of a recent chat with our Patreon backers where we asked for episode topics they wanted to hear. The ideas they suggested included pacing and building dread in games, as well as the three-act structure. Maintaining pace and building atmosphere are the GM’s main jobs in the middle portion of a horror game, so we give them a good, hard look in this episode.

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Not always easy if you got carried away building atmosphere.

The middle part of a game is probably the hardest to pin down. Beginnings and ends are pretty self-explanatory, so we defined the middle as everything else. As well as pace and atmosphere, we talk about handling spotlight time, the importance of improvisation and whether big plot twists risk alienating some players.

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The players’ interest in the game was dead all along!

In the introduction, I blatantly abuse the podcast to promote a new publication. I shall do so again here with the excuse of providing the promised link. A few years ago, I wrote a convention scenario for Tim Gray’s excellent sword-and-sorcery RPG, Jaws of the Six Serpents. The scenario, titled, The Blizzard’s Teeth, centres on a mismatched group of characters who find themselves stranded in a keep while an unnatural storm filled with howling demons rages outside. Like much sword-and-sorcery fiction, it straddles the line between fantasy and horror. Tim has recently published The Blizzard’s Teeth as a PDF, and it is available on DriveThruRPG.

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We recorded some singing to go into this episode, to thank a new $5 Patreon backer, but Paul’s computer decided to spare you all. Somehow it turned the file into something that sounds like R2D2 orgasming. While many would argue that this is an improvement, we have decided to re-record instead, so our thanks will have to wait for the next episode.

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Episode 91 addendum: the music of Brian Lavelle

There was a major omission in the show notes for episode 91. During the episode, we discussed the use of ambient music to build atmosphere in games. I recommended the music of Brian Lavelle and promised to link to his Bandcamp site. I then forgot to do so when writing the notes. Apologies for that! You can find his work here.

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Being old and out of touch with such things, I am not sure which musical genre would best describe Lavelle’s work. He describes himself as a Scottish sound artist, which leaves the field pretty open. His music is electronic and ambient, often unsettling without being overpowering. Most of the tracks I’ve heard would make perfect background music for sessions of Call of Cthulhu or any other horror game. The Night Ocean and his most recent release, Rune-Filled Eyes, strike me as especially well suited for this.

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All of Lavelle’s tracks can be streamed from his Bandcamp site, allowing you to try them before committing any money. If you do decide to buy, the downloads are priced extremely reasonably. Listeners from overseas will also doubtless benefit from the weak British Pound!

Posted in Gaming Materials, Inspiration, The Good Friends of Jackson Elias | 1 Comment

Episode 91 – The Good Friends start at the very beginning

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We’re back and we’re ready to start at the beginning. No, this doesn’t mean that we’re recycling episode 1. Instead, we are trying something a bit new. This episode is the first of three linked discussions in which we talk about structuring roleplaying games. Like stories, RPG one-shots and campaigns have beginnings, middles and ends. Each part requires different tools and techniques to make them come alive.

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Although you can never go wrong with electricity.

Appropriately enough, we are starting with beginnings. The next two episodes will cover middles and ends, respectively. We thought about being all avant-garde and jumbling them up, but we figured we’re difficult enough to follow already. This episode delves into the techniques we use to prepare for a game, how we work with the players to set everything up and some different ways we actually start the game itself.

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Paul blows the ancient horn of K’ah R’bord to mark the start of the game.

In the intro, we mention a couple of current Kickstarter campaigns. There is a new edition of Monsterhearts, the game of teenage monsters and their messy lives. We discussed it back in episode 32. The Kickstarter campaign has three weeks to go at the time of posting and is already funded.

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Much closer to completion is the Kickstarter campaign for Operation Unfathomable. We mentioned on our recent episode about The Seven Geases how much fun it would be to play a game where we wander about having chats with all these ancient and inhuman gods. Well, apparently this game exists! Operation Unfathomable is a campaign setting for Swords & Wizardry (which means it will work with most OSR games) that mixes the weirdness of Clark Ashton Smith’s Hyperborea with old-school gonzo approach of Gygax. It looks like a hell of a lot of fun. You only have two days left to back it at the time of posting, so be quick!

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As Paul also mentions in the intro, I was pounced upon at his recent Halloween party. Our friend Vicky, in particular, did things to my beard and hair. Paul promised evidence of this. He really is far, far too kind. Here is a photograph taken by our good friend Oli Palmer.

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Not pictured: Scott’s dignity.

And, finally, we should warn you that there is singing in this episode. We have a new Patreon backer at the $5 level, which means we have sung his praises. This particular song is a strange one even for us. We used tubes to make it. They did nothing to mask the horror.

Edit: I mentioned Brian Lavelle’s superb ambient music in the episode but forgot to include any information about it in these show notes. You can listen to and buy Brian’s work via his Bandcamp site. I have posted a bit more in an addendum to these notes.

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Call of Cthulhu Explained – Part 3 Skill Rolls (Video)

This is the third in the series of videos explaining the Call of Cthulhu rules. Parts 1 and 2 can be found by clicking on the Videos tab at the top of the page.

This video discusses when to roll dice, when to make skill rolls, when to use characteristic rolls, setting difficulty levels, pushing rolls and foreshadowing consequences.

If you are new to Call of Cthulhu, or wish to get up to speed with the new edition, we recommend starting with the series of 5 videos that explain the Quick-Start rules.

 

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Episode 90 – The Good Friends are compelled by the Seven Geases

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We’re back and we’re following up last episode’s discussion of Clark Ashton Smith with a look at one of his stories. The Seven Geases is part of Smith’s Hyperborean cycle, the series of his that most intersects with the Cthulhu Mythos. In fact, the The Seven Geases adds more entities to the Mythos than any other single Smith story, making it a fascinating read for Call of Cthulhu Keepers.

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As usual, we dig into aspects of the story that would make good gaming material. The Seven Geases is a little different than the types of stories we normally discuss. While many of its elements have found their way into Lovecraftian horror fiction and games, the story itself is a weird mix of sword-and-sorcery and black comedy. This disparity of genres has never stopped people incorporating elements from Smith’s stories into Call of Cthulhu games, however, and usually to great effect.

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Even with this in mind, however, Call of Cthulhu Keepers who read The Seven Geases for inspiration may find it a strange and jarring experience. While the story introduces major Mythos entities, such as Abhoth and Atlatch-Nacha, and reincorporates a number of others, the way in which they behave differs markedly from their use in Call of Cthulhu. Mythos deities are rarely as chatty as those encountered here.

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“Just pull up a corpse and sit down. Now, let’s have a nice little chat about blood sacrifices. Scone?”

If this episode inspires you to run a game set in Hyperborea, good friend of the Good Friends Stephanie McAlea has put together a rather lovely map of the lost continent. Stephanie has been the cartographer of most of the work we have written for Chaosium, and does excellent work. You can buy her map via DriveThruRPG, or download it directly if you back her on Patreon.

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As Bret Kramer, another good friend of the Good Friends, pointed out, we neglected to mention The Double Shadow podcast in our overview of Smith. This was a major oversight. If you have any interest in Smith and his work, you should definitely give it a listen. The hosts know their subject well and delve into each story and its context in loving detail.

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And still speaking of good friends of the Good Friends, we mention in the episode how Frank Delventhal amazed and alarmed us with his feats of strength during our recent chat with Patreon backers. Frank has made videos of some of these feats and placed them where lesser mortals may see them. One particularly terrifying example may be found below.

 

 

Posted in Call of Cthulhu, Horror Stories, Other Podcasts, The Good Friends of Jackson Elias | 2 Comments

Kickstarter Update (October 2016)

Hello everyone! It’s been a bit quiet on the Cthulhu front for Kickstarters recently (well, at least ones I’ve had funds to back anyway – Deadlands 20th Anniversary saw to that, tempting me with a whiskey box that I’d seen before and never been able to buy until now!). However, that’s changed with two projects from returning creators.

First up, The Book of Three Gates

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This comes from the team at Strix Publishing that recently finished up work on The Book of Starry Wisdom.

To put it in context, The Book of Starry Wisdom collects together three Lovecraft stories featuring Cthulhu and/or his cult (Dagon, The Call of Cthulhu, and The Shadow over Innsmouth) together with some black & white illustrations, and essays on the topic from various authors that have touched the Mythos at one point or another.

The theme linking the stories in The Book of Three Gates is the breaking of the barriers between worlds (The Dunwich Horror, The Dreams in the Witch House, The Haunter of the Dark). Once again, there will be accompanying artwork and essays.

Size-wise, the book is similar in height and width to a normal RPG book, with a leatherette cover (see below for a pic). The picture on The Book of Starry Wisdom page was a little ambitious in terms of thickness. The one on the current project page looks more realistic, and will make it a nice companion piece to the first volume.

The project closes on November 5th and at the time of this post is $8,000 off its funding target of $17,000

 

Next up, The King in Yellow Christmas Cards

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This comes from the team over at Studio WonderCabinet that brought us the Cthulhu Christmas Greeting Cards last year.

With the nights drawing in and Christmas around the corner, now is the time to spread a little madness and the taint of the King in Yellow to your friends and loved ones. Remind them that Aldebaran shines down over them this festival period with these (currently four, maybe more with stretch goals) illustrated cards.

One point to note, these only ship physically in the US. However, for those of us that live in Carcosa, or anywhere else on Earth, they do have a $5 tier where you can get high-res PDFs in various paper formats to print off your own. That’s the level I’ve gone for, like last year. This is even more an incentive for me to get a colour printer. I’d be quite happy to enlarge any of the artwork they’ve produced so far, frame it and hang it up on the wall… except we have very little wall-space at the moment, having been taken over by all the bookcases. DOH!

The project closes on November 16th and at the time of this post has already achieved its $2,000 goal and is marching on towards stretch goals (once they are defined).

 

And on the note of running out of space, in other Kickstarter related news…

The team over at C is for Cthulhu that funded their colouring book project a while ago have just wrapped up production on the monster that is the Giant C is for Cthulhu plush. It will soon begin shipping (within the next couple of weeks).

Now, to put the size of this plush into perspective, remember I mentioned above that the Book of Starry Wisdom was the size of a regular RPG book…?

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That cute guy on the left is the Red Cthulhu plush they funded in a previous project. Use that as a size comparison for the next pic…

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WAAAAAHHHH! No wonder my bank account stings after paying international postage of that guy. Also, little wonder that due to the challenge and cost of making these, the company won’t be making any more of them, making this a very limited collectors piece indeed. I think I’ll have him sitting in my office chair during the day… And he might make an appearance during a recording session one night, just to torment Scott 😉

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Episode 89 – The Good Friends explore the many worlds of Clark Ashton Smith

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We’re back and we’re delving into the life and work of Clark Ashton Smith. Along with Robert E Howard, Smith was a core member of H P Lovecraft’s literary circle. While his work was massively popular in Weird Tales, it has been rather overshadowed by that of Smith’s peers. His stories have been reprinted in various forms almost constantly since the 1920s (and are free to read on the excellent Eldritch Dark website), but his creations have never had the cultural impact of Cthulhu or Conan.

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While Smith’s stories are perhaps a little less accessible than that of Lovecraft or Howard, they are rich, heady tales, filled with sardonic humour, beautiful nightmares and evocative language. Many of his pieces are perhaps closers to prose poems than conventional short stories, which is unsurprising given Smith’s roots as a poet. As well as being wonderful pieces of fantasy in their own right, Smith’s friendship with Lovecraft led to many elements of these stories adding to the Cthulhu Mythos. Call of Cthulhu players will find many familiar names in Smith’s stories, such as the god Tsathoggua and the infamous Book of Eibon. We will expand on this connection a little more next episode when we look at a Smith story that birthed many such monstrosities.

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As well as being a short story writer and poet, Smith was also an accomplished painter and sculptor. In fact, his career in the visual arts lasted for decades after he stopped writing fiction. His carvings and sculptures often incorporated elements from his stories and those of Lovecraft, and were always filled with the same weird imagination that fuelled his prose. Again, the Eldritch Dark website provides extensive galleries of his paintings and sculptures, as well as essays, articles and criticism.

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Most of our discussion, however, focuses on Smith’s literary work and the various worlds he created. While legal issues have prevented these from ever becoming licensed RPGs, they have certainly inspired a great many. We offer some ideas about how Smith’s work can shape your own games.

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As we mention in the episode, today also marks the release of the first of our Weird Whisperings to everyone who supports the Good Friends of Jackson Elias on Patreon. This is our series of recordings of some of the weird fiction we feature on the podcast. This time it’s the turn of The Music of Erich Zann, which we discussed back in episode 75. If you are a Patreon backer, please check your email for a download link. Enjoy!

Posted in Horror Stories, The Good Friends of Jackson Elias | 9 Comments

Site Outage

Apologies for the site outage on blasphemoustomes.com this weekend. A WordPress plugin decided to misbehave on Friday, while I was en route to a friend’s wedding in Scotland, and I was unable to get to a computer to fix it until Monday evening.

All is well now, happily.

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Episode 88 – The Good Friends plan out their approach to published campaigns

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We’re back, and we’re digging through those thick books and bulging boxed sets that dominate our gaming shelves. Published campaigns have been a huge part of roleplaying games since their infancy. This is especially true for Call of Cthulhu. Call of Cthulhu is often defined by epic campaigns like Beyond the Mountains of MadnessHorror on the Orient Express and, especially, Masks of Nyarlathotep. They open up strange new worlds of play, bringing thrills, chills and memorably gruesome deaths to gaming tables across the globe.

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Up to four hideous deaths per session guaranteed.

While using a published campaign gives you access to huge amounts of research, imagination and stat blocks prepared by other gamers, this doesn’t mean they have done all the work for you. The GM still has to read, digest and regurgitate all this material, like a monstrous bird-thing feeding a gaming table full of hungry chicks.

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“Shut up and roll for initiative!”

Our discussion takes us through the stages of preparing and running a published campaign, as well as offering general tips for bringing the campaign alive. We also look at how to assemble a campaign out of disparate published scenarios. This approach can either create an exciting, varied play experience or a Frankenstein’s monster of a campaign that will destroy you and your players out of a deathless thirst for revenge.

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“We belong dead. Or permanently insane. I’m good either way.”

Our original plan for the episode was to also discuss writing or improvising your own campaigns, but we found so much to say about using published material that we have decided to save that as a topic for a future episode. As I may have mentioned before, we’re a verbose bunch. If we didn’t record standing up in a poorly ventilated room, we would probably still be talking now.

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The Good Friends at the end of a recording session, pictured for reference.

In the course of the episode, Paul mentioned the campaign journal from his old Ars Magica game. We promised a picture, and after a little last-minute panicking, here it is.

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Sanity Loss: 1D6, Cthulhu Mythos (Initial Reading): +2%, Cthulhu Mythos (Full Study): +4%, Mythos Rating: 18, Study: 4 months, Spells: Attract Fish

Finally, we should warn you that there is more singing in this episode. We have a new $5 backer on Patreon, whose thanks we sing in a repellently organic manner. Our experiments with new techniques are beginning to change us inside and out. There is now little resemblance between a human singing voice and the blasphemous cacophony that vomits forth from our twisted lips. So, enjoy!

 

Posted in Call of Cthulhu, Roleplaying Games, The Good Friends of Jackson Elias | 4 Comments